New York’s new video game labeling law has no teeth

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

New York (NY) – New York’s Governor David Paterson has signed a new video game labeling law that critics claim is too lenient and too broad.  The law will require visible labeling on video games sold in retail stores and will also create an advisory panel to study game ratings and the link between violent games and crime.  Game console makers will also be forced to include parental lockout features by 2010.

It’s a bit confusing as to what the law is actually trying to accomplish since most videos game companies already voluntarily submit their products to the ESRB for ratings.  Furthermore, most video games already prominently display the ESRB rating on the front, back and sides of the box – as if the pictures of scantily clad women and guns didn’t give the mature rating away.  Mail order outlets and unrated versions of previously rated games are exempt from the labeling restriction.

Ok let’s get to the no teeth part of the law.  The penalty for stores and companies not labeling the games is a massive $100 civil fine.  No jail time, no pulling of the game, just enough money to cover a dinner for three people at Outback Steakhouse (assuming each person orders the fillet mignon).

Now some of the other parts of the law are more interesting.  Console makers must install parental locking features in their units by September 1, 2010.  Of course, PCs and handheld systems like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are exempt from this.

The law also establishes a 16 member panel that will study the connection between violent games and criminal behavior.  The panel will also evaluate the effectiveness of ESRB ratings.  Members of the panel will receive no compensation, but can be reimbursed for expenses (well helicopter is the preferred method of travel in New York - traffic in the city can be horrible). 

New York’s video game labeling law went through a few revisions before being passed.  Originally the bill had a provision that would have made it a felony to sell sexually explicit or violent games.  That provision was removed back in May 2007 after intense lobbying by the video game industry.  Additionally, law makers felt it would have subjected the law to an immediate court challenge.